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Arguably, the single most defining phenomenon of the 21st century is the digital revolution. The use of computers has greatly defined advancements and developments in many other aspects of human life, and for people to continue reaping these benefits, digital infrastructure development is critical. Through this, digital technologies, tools, and techniques can be institutionalized more permanently and prevalently in everyday living.
It may seem that the digital lifestyle is already pervasive in the Philippines, what with the reputation of Filipinos for being voracious social media users. After all, according to some estimates, around 60 million—or more than half of the country’s total population—are already hooked to the Internet. However, compared to other countries around the world, this Internet penetration figure is still not that substantial on a per capita basis. There surprisingly remains a large digital divide that is preventing more Filipinos from accessing digital technology and making the most of it.
This divide is caused by socioeconomic factors such as income inequality and unequal distribution of resources. Sadly, those who can afford digital resources leave behind the poorer sectors of society, and those living in urban centers do the same to those from rural areas.
Another factor is the demographic of age. It may come more naturally to the youth to take to modern technology easier and faster because they are essential digital natives, but it does not mean that individuals of more advanced age should be left behind in the use of digital technologies. In fact, they are the ones who should be prioritized in terms of digital literacy campaigns and the development of digital competencies.
This divide can be bridged through a proper, efficient, and sustainable development of digital infrastructure in the Philippines. It will help bring about numerous benefits, such as:
More Livelihood and Business Opportunities
E-commerce is an economic sector that has seen major growth during the COVID-19 pandemic as people have been forced to stay at home and purchase their needs online. The online space is the emerging hotbed for innovative entrepreneurs, especially in the MSME (micro, small, and medium enterprise) sector, and as such, proper digital infrastructure is needed to encourage their continued development and growth. There needs to be a more reliable and efficient network that online entrepreneurs—as well as their customers—can rely upon to exchange and process data. Even in a post-pandemic world, experts unanimously agree that e-commerce is here to stay and will be the trend of trade and business for the foreseeable future.
Another important digital development that has emerged in this time of pandemic is online banking. According to the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, as much as 70 percent of Filipinos still remain unbanked or excluded from the mainstream financial system. Digital infrastructure development will help spur the creation of more fintech solutions to address this need for financial inclusivity across the country. In fact, the use of banking apps and digital wallets has increased manifold in the past year alone, as people’s physical mobility has been restricted with the various quarantine restrictions imposed across the country. Fintech remains the viable and long-term solution to help achieve financial inclusivity among Filipinos in all sectors of society.
Freedom of Expression
Did you know that the United Nations has declared the Internet as a basic human right? Primarily, this is because it’s an instrument to furthering the freedoms of speech and expression. The Internet and social media has indeed allowed more people to express themselves more freely regardless of their age, racial background, sex, gender identity, social stature, and any other circumstance. Thus, digital infrastructure development is vital to ensuring that citizens continue to enjoy this basic freedom to communicate as well as to enhance their knowledge through accurate and correct information. The Internet is a great equalizer for the disadvantaged sectors of society, such as indigenous peoples, the poor, the elderly, and the differently-abled, among many others.
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has also highlighted the role of digital technology and communications in terms of distance learning and education. With physical classes on hiatus, students have had to attend school online. Employees have similarly been surviving on work-from-home arrangements and relying on Internet connectivity to get things done. Digital infrastructure development is thus extremely vital to ensuring that these innovations continue well into the future, as experts foresee that these types of blended learning and work arrangements will be the trend even beyond the pandemic.
A More Competitive Telecoms Industry
Continuous digital infrastructure development stimulates the telecommunications industry and helps foster fair competition among companies that offer digital products and services. It spurs innovation and ultimately benefits users by way of lower costs, more exciting offerings, and more reliable customer service. It also helps attract more investments in allied and related industries such as consumer electronics and devices, business process outsourcing, knowledge management, and a whole lot more. Ensuring a dynamic digital infrastructure marketplace will help boost the national economy in more ways than one.
A key factor to making digital infrastructure development happen is funding and support not only from the government but from the private sector as well. There needs to be a recognition of the benefits of digital infrastructure development so that it becomes a deliberate part of the national agenda for progress and development. With a robust digital infrastructure in place, Filipino digital consumers will surely be more confident to live a fully digital lifestyle.
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